Picking in the parking lot, punk in the street | AspenTimes.com

Picking in the parking lot, punk in the street

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Mark Merryman had long been into the sound of acoustic string instruments. But bluegrass didnt become a particular interest until Merryman discovered the joys of parking lot picking.Merryman, a native of Morrison, Colo., first came into close contact with bluegrass at the 1984 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The music onstage was head-turning. But it was the scene away from the stage, the clusters of musicians playing at campsites, parks and parking lots, that really put the smile on the guitarists face.When I came across bluegrass that first time, I said Ive got to get into that, said Merryman, whose band, Fret Knot, plays Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Carbondale Council for Arts and Humanities annex at Carbondales La Fontana shopping plaza on Highway 133. And the social aspect of being able to get together with other people in a parking lot and play some bluegrass standards, thats a really cool thing.So cool that Merryman has made a habit of touring the parking lot picking scenes at regional bluegrass festivals. He regularly hits Rockygrass, the Four Corners Folk Festival in Pagosa Springs, the Durango Meltdown and the Walnut Creek Festival in Winfield, Kan., a favorite because its so huge, if you dont like whats going on one place, you just move to the next place and find what you want.Merryman does plenty of more organized picking as well. Fret Knot which includes banjoist Mark Epstein as well as fiddler Bruce Lites, mandolinist Kevin Yost and bassist Brad Smith has been playing all over Colorado since Merryman and Epstein put the combo together 12 years ago. Most of the current lineup has been intact for eight years; Smith is the most recent addition, with three years in the group. Fret Knot has one recording, an eponymous 2002 CD that features 10 original songs among its 14 tracks.Merryman has several other ventures to occupy himself, including the RC Project, a jazzy combo that features nylon-string guitarist Robert Clousing, and a solo CD, his first, which is currently in production and will include all original material.As much as he enjoys the looseness of the parking lot scene, Merryman also likes the steadiness he has found in Fret Knot.Sometimes its better, sometimes its worse, said Merryman, comparing informal jams to regular gigs. Picking in the parking lot can be really good, but it can be really bad. I look for certain people to play with in the parking lot, people I know and have played with for years. But I like playing in a band where everybodys been playing together a long time. You get into subtle nuances because you know how each other thinks. In the parking lot, if everybodys not listening, it can be mayhem.A fervent fan of bluegrass, Merryman appreciates the masters who he is unlikely to come across in a parking lot session. He says he can listen to banjoist Bla Fleck for a week straight, and also has a fondness for the Del McCoury Band, the David Grisman Quintet, the Seldom Scene and, lately, John Reischman & the Jaybirds. Picking in the parking lot can be fun, but for real listening pleasure, Merryman aims for the top shelf.I guess the virtuoso picking was the first thing that got my attention, he said. And New Grass Revival those intricate rhythms really got my attention. Then when I got into the older bluegrass, I started getting into the vocal harmonies. Kim Quirk had to be pushed into a music career.Growing up in Snowmass Village, Quirk watched her father, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Terry Quirk, play regular gigs with his band, Quirk. But that didnt get the younger Quirk interested. At Portland, Ore.s Reed College, Quirk finally learned to play guitar, but confined her music to her room. When she moved to Europe in 1997, she brought her guitar, but with no thoughts of being a performer.I had no desire to play publicly, said the 37-year-old. A friend made me play a private party. But everyone enjoyed it, so I started to enjoy it.Quirk played her way from Germany to Tarifa, a beach resort in southern Spain where she lived the hedonistic lifestyle which, in her case, included writing a novel, still unpublished, kite-surfing and singing. After getting a lot of encouragement for her music, she decided to return to Colorado a year and a half ago to pursue, finally, a career.Living on the Front Range, Quirk has recorded a four-song EP, I Cant Wait, and put together a band, the four-piece Big Bad Band. Playing what she describes as upbeat rock, with shades of Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, and Dido, Quirk & Her Big Bad Band are making a name around Denver and are starting to hit the mountain towns.This week, Quirk performs for the first time in her home valley, with a gig Friday, Jan. 23, at Steves Guitars in Carbondale. The Offspring is a rare object a punk band that has been together for 20 years. After seeing Social Distortion in concert and hearing Change Today, by fellow SoCal punks T.S.O.L., singer-guitarist Dexter Holland and bassist Greg Kriesel assembled the band Manic Subsidal in 1984 and changed the name to The Offspring the following year, after the addition of guitarist Kevin Noodles Wasserman. After recording a few singles and demos and performing sporadically, The Offspring signed with Nemesis Records and released its debut, self-titled album in 1989. But it wasnt until the mid-90s, with the albums Smash and Ixnay on the Hombre, that the band gathered widespread attention and enormous record sales for a punk band.With the success came inevitable criticism. Smash was catchy and hook-filled, which went against the grain of the authentic punk sound. The album sold 4 million copies, which represented an abrupt move away from the punk niche and into the mainstream. The Offspring parted with the outsider label Epitaph and signed with the massive Columbia Records. In 1998, the band scored a hit single, Pretty Fly For a White Guy, from their Americana album.The Offspring seems comfortable in its place on the line that divides punk and pop. The bands recent CD Splinter, produced by hit-making producer Brendan OBrien, is about as slick as music can get and still be termed punk. Speaking of the album, Noodles said, We tried to make it sound even better than the 2001 album Conspiracy of One, also produced by OBrien. So un-punk.Still, Splinter is a good listen, filled with hooks and light humor, such as the ska-influenced The Worst Hangover Ever, and the album-closing When Youre in Prison, which Holland sings in an Al Jolson-like falsetto. The Offspring plays a free, Aspen Skiing Company-sponsored X Games concert on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 6 p.m. on Hunter Street. More music for X Games week: Nutty ska-funk band Fishbone headlines the Yellow Snow Tour, with OPM and Bargain Music, at Iguanas on Monday, Jan. 26. The Grottos has a full lineup of head-banging shows. Leading off on Friday, Jan. 23, is Mr. Greenweedz & the Family Tree, an organic hip-hop group from Chicago comprising emcee Mr. Greenweedz, a former member of jazz-funk group Liquid Soul, and disc jockey/beat master G Riot. Hard-core ska band Warsaw plays Saturday, Jan. 24, and at the X Games Closing Party on Tuesday, Jan. 27.And Lordz of Brooklyn, a multimedia hip-hop group that was part of last summers Warped Tour, is said to be coming to Bumps at the base of Buttermilk, but the date and time have yet to be confirmed.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com